My Leadership Coaching Philosophy

My Leadership Coaching Philosophy

Moltke realised that in a fast-changing, unpredictable environment, organisations no longer work like well-oiled machines.


My Leadership Coaching philosophy, Mission Focused Leadership, draws on the teachings of a 19th Century Prussian General to offer business leaders a solution to the 21st Century management issue of turning strategy into action in an unpredictable world.


Knowing how to plan and implement your strategy is the most foundational leadership capability of any business leadership team. Without it, you will only ever lead a reactive, fire fighting existence. 


Recent surveys indicate that although strategic planning is considered a core leadership skill, many senior management teams remain stuck in a spiral of firefighting at the expense of strategic focus. 


The problem of executing strategy is widespread and well documented.


In a recent survey of 125,000 managers from over 1,000 companies were asked if they agreed that “Important strategic and operational decisions are quickly translated into action’, the majority answered no”.  In fact, the organisations found it difficult to do what they regarded as important.  This is odd. Why can companies do things that don’t matter very much but can’t do things that do?


The problem is also enduring.  

The problem is also enduring. Walk into most board rooms and the conversations on the subject of execution have hardly changed in 20 years.


This is odder still. When we know, we have an essential problem which is not new, why can’t we solve it?


If a problem is widespread and enduring, its origins are likely to be deep-seated. The solution is expected to be something fundamental.


The old problem has an old solution.  


This old problem also has an old resolution. The solution is not only old but also relatively simple. Indeed, once understood, it feels like little more than common sense. Unfortunately, being common sense does not make something common practice.


This naturally prompts the question ‘If this solution has been around for a long time and it is simple to understand, why isn’t it common



There are two main reasons why.


The first reason is that the history of management thinking in the 20th Century has built up barriers to adopting the solution.

Whilst much of this thinking has been disputed by modern management thinkers, its legacy is insidious.


The second reason is that, although the legacy model’s failings are evident, it is not clear what it should be replaced with.

Lacking any alternative, practising managers fall back on the legacy model as a default


My Leadership Coaching challenges the old way of leading a business.


In the decades following the industrial revolution, many businesses were built up around factories that were essentially machines. The people needed to operate them were integrated into them like the proverbial cogs.


The machine became the model for business as a whole, and a managers’ job was to keep them well-oiled.


In 1911, Frederick Winslow Taylor’s classic The Principles of Scientific Management enshrined the machine model for several generations. This approach to management rests on three premises:


  1. It is possible to know all you need to know to be able to plan what to do
  2. Planners and doers should be separated
  3. ‘There is but one right way.’


A manager was a programmer of robot workers. The essence of management was to create perfect plans and tell people precisely what to do and how to do it.


Taylor and his followers helped to professionalise management in ways we now take for granted, and their methods resulted in significant efficiency improvements.


Taylor studied repetitive, menial tasks (like shifting pig iron onto railcars) in great detail and worked out how to perform them optimally, as a machine would.


Just about every business involves tasks with similar characteristics, and today a lot of those tasks are indeed performed by robots or have been standardised in computer programmes.


Taylor wanted to apply his methods to all the activities within a business. 


However, businesses also involve tasks that are not menial or repetitive but where knowledge of particular circumstances is critical.

The less stable and the more dynamic the environment is, the more they matter. In the case of tasks such as these, all three of Taylor’s premises are false.


Those premises were first challenged by Peter Drucker in the 1950s, and many have followed. However, most of the systems in large organisations which determine how people carry out planning and budgeting, target setting and performance management are still based on engineering principles. Globalisation leads to standardisation, pressure for increased compliance and fear of litigation imposes further constraints. Despite our avowed rejection of the consequences of scientific management, we may, in fact, be moving closer to turning not just workers but managers into robots.


This brings us to the second reason why the problem of executing strategy is so enduring. There is no accepted set of management disciplines for achieving the outcomes we want in the dynamic, uncertain environment we are faced with today. Whilst it is relatively straightforward what we should not do, there is so much advice about what we should do. What are the things which really make a difference?



The winning players behave like organisms and can act more

effectively with less information than their rivals. An organisation of that type, the type we are searching for now, began to be developed more than 100 years before Taylor created the problem.


Fortunately, from a Leadership Coaching perspective, others have been here before. 


My Leadership Coaching Philosophy, Mission Focused Leadership, has its roots in the teachings of a 19th Century Prussian General.


Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke. Moltke realised that in a fast-changing, unpredictable environment, organisations no longer work like well-oiled machines.


Von Moltke found that trying to get results by directly taking charge of things at lower levels in the organisational hierarchy is dysfunctional. Von Moltke emphasised the importance of alignment, which means that the more alignment you have, the more autonomy you can grant.


Ultimately, the result is that the organisation’s performance does not depend on its being led by a military genius because it becomes an intelligent organisation. Rather than relying on exceptional individuals, this solution raises the performance of the average.


The origins of my Leadership Coaching Philosophy, Mission Focused Leadership, are based on Moltke’s theory of Leadership.  When linked with my Busines Coaching System, it’s a powerful proposition.  


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